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18 September 2014
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The Historian's Many Hats

By John Arnold
A choice of histories

Image of Cesare Baronio
Cesare Baronio, interpreter of 16th-century ecclesiastical history ©
John Hogsflesh can therefore be made to fit into a number of different contexts. The 'history' produced around him will vary according to the historian and his or her interpretation.

There is, therefore, a difference between 'the past' (all the things that happened in previous times) and 'history' (the bits of those things presented, in various ways, by historians to a wider public). How these different histories vary depends on the roles that the historian adopts.

The initial hat a historian usually wears is that of a detective - finding out something by locating historical documents. As we have seen, the next role is that of interpreter - saying something about what these things mean. In fact the boundaries of these roles are blurred.

'To make sense of Hogsflesh (or any other bit of the past), we need to find other material to provide context ...'

To make sense of Hogsflesh, or any other bit of the past, we need to find other material to provide context (as we have just seen). The direction of the particular detective work a historian undertakes therefore depends, in part, on the kind of interpretation he or she wants or is able to pursue.

This is affected by a number of things, including the availability of different kinds of sources, the interests of the historian, the knowledge already made available by other scholars.

Published: 2005-01-28

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